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There was a time when plenty of big firms wrote off a meager pro bono commitment as a necessary casualty of a vigorous pace of business. So when the economy slowed last year, idling droves of big-firm lawyers, pro bono service shot through the roof, right? Not exactly. It is true that last year, according to The American Lawyer, 66 Am Law 100 firms posted increases in pro bono hours, contributing to a 17.9 percent increase in total pro bono hours for the Am Law 100 as a whole. But the head count at Am Law 100 firms grew by 11 percent, and pro bono hours per lawyer increased just 6.8 percent — nice, but not sufficient to make up for 10 years’ worth of decline. The American Lawyer ranks firms by a combination of their total pro bono hours and the number of their lawyers who performed more than 20 hours of pro bono work. Perennial champions continue to reign. This year’s top place went to Covington & Burling (No. 4 among Am Law 100 firms last year). In second place was Arnold & Porter (last year’s No. 3), and in third place was Jenner & Block (last year’s No. 2). Last year’s No. 1 firm, Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, finished in fifth place, behind White & Case at No. 4. Otherwise, there were few patterns in this year’s pro bono numbers. Some firms increased their pro bono hours while posting sizable revenue gains. Sullivan & Cromwell, for instance, increased its pro bono hours by 76.2 percent — the sixth-largest increase among Am Law 100 firms — while its gross revenue increased 10 percent. Others enjoyed blockbuster growth but saw a slide in pro bono numbers: Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld posted a 28.6 percent increase in gross revenue but a 35.2 percent drop in pro bono hours, the deepest decrease of any Am Law 100 firm. “I’m really surprised and disappointed by the dip in pro bono hours,” said Akin Gump chairman R. Bruce McLean. “For the purposes of evaluation and compensation, we treat pro bono as billable hours. But associates know that our firm is trying to run a business, and with the salary hikes last year, I think they feel pressure to focus on billable work.” Simpson Thacher & Bartlett posted a 23.1 percent decline in pro bono hours, the second-largest drop among Am Law 100 firms. Noting that the firm wrapped up a large education funding trial against New York state last year, chairman Richard Beattie said that “our pro bono numbers were so high in 2000 that we couldn’t possibly sustain them” in 2001. LEADING THE WAY Some of the firms that posted the largest percentage increases in pro bono hours benefited from comparison to weak results in 2000. Blank Rome Comisky & McCauley had the largest such increase — 426 percent; co-chairman and chief executive officer Fred Blume said the firm began counting pro bono work toward associate billable hour requirements and encouraging partners to increase their pro bono caseloads. Yet the firm’s pro bono caseload remains quite small. Despite the increase, Blank Rome logged just 1,776 pro bono hours in 2001, finishing in 91st place on our charts with the lowest pro bono index score of any of the Am Law 100 firms that reported pro bono information. The second-largest increase, 139 percent, was posted by Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue, which overhauled its recordkeeping system last year. “We weren’t doing a god job of tracking our pro bono hours, so our office averages seemed very low, even though the commitment was there,” said partner Robert Klonoff, who directs the firm’s pro bono program. “Now we send out firmwide directives and e-mails about opportunities, and we educate our lawyers about how to bill for it.” The firm finished in 82nd place. The third-largest percentage leap — 116 percent — was made by Kilpatrick Stockton. The firm hired lawyer Debra Segal as a full-time pro bono coordinator. She selects, staffs and oversees the firm’s pro bono projects. Kilpatrick’s lawyers are now expected to perform 50 hours of pro bono work annually. The firm finished in 34th place this year. About 19 percent of the firm’s lawyers met the 50-hour expectation last year, about double the percentage that logged 50 hours in 2000, Segal said. Coupled with this year’s slight rise in pro bono numbers, do such examples presage a permanent strengthening of Am Law 100 firms’ pro bono commitment? It is a matter of priorities, said Esther Lardent, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Pro Bono Institute: “Fundamentally, pro bono is tough for big firms in good times and bad times. The firms that are able to sustain [strong pro bono practices] are those that pay attention to the issue at the resource level and really support a pro bono infrastructure.” In other words, it will take more than a few spare hours.

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